Notre Dame women's recruiting class ranked No. 5

South Bend Tribune

Incoming Notre Dame women’s basketball recruits cut down the nets at two state championship games, put on McDonald’s All-Star Game uniforms, and made strides in their game that will help them become impact players for the Fighting Irish next season.

Guard Mychal Johnson of Huntington, W. Va., and forwards Brianna Turner of Pearland, Texas, and Kathryn Westbeld of Kettering, Ohio, together are ranked as the No. 5 recruiting class in the nation according to ESPN’s Hoopgurlz. Turner is the No. 2 recruit in the nation on the Hoopgurlz list, while Westbeld is No. 21 and Johnson No. 81.

The 6-3 Turner was named the MVP at the McDonald’s All-America game. She led Manvel High School to a stunning state championship run. The Mavericks (38-2) upset Duncanville, a Texas powerhouse that had won 105 consecutive games. Turner had 17 points and 17 rebounds in the state championship game. She averaged 20.8 points, 11.5 rebounds, 4.2 steals, 3.9 blocks and 3.7 steals despite only averaging 23 minutes a game.

Manvel head coach Bryan Harris said Turner could have easily averaged close to 30 points a game, but she was always focused on getting her teammates involved. Turner, who has won five gold medals with Team USA, is expected to have an immediate impact on the college game. The one area where Turner really developed in her senior season was her strength.

“I saw a huge difference in her physique between her junior and senior year,” Harris said. “She became a lot stronger.”

Harris said Turner’s improvement in her strength and conditioning paid off for the Mavericks. Turner worked out every day, and in critical tournament games, was able to finish strong.

The 5-8 Johnson also hoisted a state championship trophy, something she’s gotten used to doing at St. Joseph High School in Huntington, W.Va. St. Joseph won four state championships in Johnson’s four seasons.

Johnson averaged 20.3 points, 5.7 assists, 5.9 rebounds and 3.9 steals in leading St. Joseph to a 23-3 record. Along the way, St. Joseph beat state champions from three different states.

St. Joseph coach Shannon Lewis said Johnson made great strides on defense against a rugged schedule. Lewis said Johnson will need to improve her strength at the college level.

“She’s the smartest player that I’ve ever coached in 20 years,” Lewis said. “That will be a huge benefit for her in college, because she knows every play, every position, what every player should do, every counter … we even let her coach a little bit.”

Johnson nearly had a triple-double in every state tournament game this season.

Westbeld, 6-foot-2, averaged 17.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 3.0 steals, 3.0 assists and 1.5 blocked shots in her senior season for Fairmont High School. She scored 28 points in Fairmont’s tournament loss to Princeton despite being hampered by a high ankle sprain. Westbeld led Fairmont to a state title as a junior.

Tom Jenkins of Ohio Girls Basketball Report said that Westbeld started her high school career as a one-dimensional player.

“Kathryn was strictly a post player, then she became a post player who could step out on the perimeter. Now, she’s a perimeter player who can post up,” Jenkins said. “If you look at the transformation of her game, it’s amazing.”

Jenkins said Westbeld also greatly improved her strength and conditioning from her junior season to her senior season.

“Kathryn changed her body to fit her transformation to a perimeter player,” Jenkins said. “She’s leaner, and because of that, she’s quicker, but she’s also stayed the strong player that she’s always been.”

Advantage Diggins

Two of Notre Dame’s most prominent women’s basketball alums met in a WNBA exhibition game over the weekend. Skylar Diggins and the Tulsa Shock routed San Antonio and Kayla McBride, 82-59.

Diggins, a 5-9 guard in her second season with Tulsa, scored 25 points and had eight assists. McBride, a 5-11 guard in her first season, scored three points.

Tulsa is looking forward to big things from Diggins this season. Playing on the heels of a 38-game Notre Dame season, Diggins averaged 8.5 points and 3.8 assists last season for Tulsa.

“I wasn’t happy with the product that I put on the floor last year individually,” Diggins said after the exhibition game. “I am just trying to do my part.”

Owens honored

Notre Dame assistant coach Carol Owens was honored as the 2014 A Step Up assistant coach of the year. The award is based on team success, team improvement, fulfillment of potential and the professional manner and attitude of the coach.

Notre Dame won the Atlantic Coast Conference with an unbeaten record this season, and reached the national championship game.

In 14 seasons with Owens as an assistant coach, the Irish are 390-90 (.812), and won a national title in 2001. The Irish have reached the Final Four six times with Owens as an assistant, and reached the national championship game four times.

St. Joseph's Mychal Johnson (12) dribbles through St. Marys' defenders during the A West Virginia girls' state championship game Saturday, March 15, 2014 in Charleston, WV. (AP Photo/MICHAEL SWITZER)